“Finding Hope in a Colorless World”

In episode four of The Scoop on Mental Health podcast, Michayla meets Chris Biehn, who describes how bipolar disorder has affected his quality of life and how he has found the strength to inspire others as a mental health advocate. In “Finding Hope in a Colorless World,” we hear about the onset of Chris’s mental illness, the benefits of being candid about his struggle, and the campaign he launched to promote mood disorders acceptance. “The most meaningful connections are made when we’re vulnerable,” Chris tell us. “Find people you can be vulnerable with, so you can have those really neat, deep, and meaningful friends.”

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Chris Biehn tells us how living with bipolar disorder inspires him to help others with their own mental health struggles.

“We’re Here for a Reason”

In the second episode of Michayla Savitt’s podcast The Scoop on Mental Health, we hear the story of Scott Fried, an incredible man who decided to devote his life to volunteer service after being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS three decades ago. “We’re Here for a Reason” tells a remarkable tale of loss, forgiveness, and self-love, culminating in Scott’s mission to help others with self-acceptance and promote safe-sex education. As Scott tells Michayla: “There is inside of each of us an innate worth, an innate sense of goodness and value, that can never, never, ever be unfriended, or undone, or blocked, or just missed, or ghosted, or benched, or ignored.”

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Scott Fried tells us how getting infected with HIV/AIDS led him to start a life of preaching messages of self-worth and love to people around the world.

Get the Scoop on Mental Health

Throughout the past year, I developed and produced The Scoop on Mental Health, a podcast series now being shared by The Sophie Fund. In my opinion, we can never talk too much about subjects that “make us human.” Hearing true stories is one of the most effective ways of changing someone’s perspective on an issue, which is why I started this series—to help normalize talking about mental health in everyday conversations.

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I experienced first-hand the positive ripple effect that comes from talking about things that are difficult and personal. Hearing these incredible stories of resilience from complete strangers, from classmates, and even from my family members has reaffirmed the reason we need to talk about mental illness: knowing you are not alone in your struggles is key to accepting challenges and seeking help. While I cannot attest to the full effect it has on my guests and listeners, from their feedback I know it has had a positive influence on accepting their conditions.

As someone who has lived with depression and anxiety since childhood, I can say that hearing these stories helped me to accept my own condition. While it certainly doesn’t define who I am, it plays a large role in my daily life. Openly saying “I take medication” and “I go to therapy” is a recent step in my mental health journey, because like many people, I tucked my issues away in fear of being judged. Fear that I would be seen as incompetent, or weak, because I don’t fit society’s definition of “normal.”

For as long as I can remember I’ve been depressed, but high functioning, receiving on and off treatment for multiple years. However, after a head injury in June 2016 my symptoms began to worsen. At some point during that summer I slipped into a hypomanic state—I lost my appetite, was barely sleeping, my mind raced at all times, and I felt like I had lost control of my mental well-being.

One day in September, I crashed. I couldn’t get out of bed all day, and just felt completely numb. I knew something was very wrong, and that I needed help. Eventually I called my mom, and with help from her and my dad we made a plan to get proper treatment for what I learned was bipolar II disorder.

In retrospect, I should have taken time off from college, but was terrified of the repercussions of leaving with the fall semester well underway. I managed to get my feet back on the ground, but knew that getting through the semester meant discussing my situation with my friends, my boss, and my teachers. In doing so, I finally realized that being honest helped so much more than dealing with it on my own—and most of all, they were more likely to say “I’m here for you, how can I help?” than to pass judgment.

That’s the common theme you’ll hear in this podcast series—whether it’s just daily mental health care, or managing a mental illness, finding ways to exercise the mind and let people in makes the burden that much lighter.

In this first episode, you’ll meet Bridget, a friend of mine who speaks about her anxiety and depression amidst balancing work, life, and self-care. “It Was Just Something I Dealt With” tackles the misconception that high anxiety should not be taken seriously, along with what we can do to push past the stigma. I continue to admire Bridget’s grit in this fight, both in her own life, and in spearheading technology to help others keep track of their mental health.

I am honored to share these stories, and hope that it inspires you to tell your own stories in whatever way you are comfortable. More than anything, I urge you to continue the conversation however you can—for just by talking about mental illness, we can better understand one another, and work to end the stigma that harmfully keeps mental illness shrouded from sight.

—By Michayla Savitt

Michayla Savitt, a recent Ithaca College alumnus, is a news anchor and reporter at Cayuga Radio Group

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Bridget Strawn tells us about how she learned to manage her anxiety and depression, and how that experience inspired the creation of a self-care app.

Demi Lovato’s Story (Part 2)

Demi Lovato just released her new album Tell Me You Love Me—and once again she uses her platform to educate her fans and the general public about mental illness. In songs like “You Don’t Do It For Me Anymore” and “Sorry Not Sorry,” she liberates herself from a past damaged by addiction and bullying.

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The 25-year-old former child actress on Barney & Friends spoke with NPR’s Ailsa Chang on All Things Considered Friday about the new album, her R&B influences, and encouraging others to open up about their mental health struggles (transcript and audio clip via NPR):

Listen to interview by clicking above

Ailsa Chang: You grew up in a family that was used to being on stage. Was there ever any question about what you would end up doing with your life?

Demi Lovato: I don’t think there was any question that I would end up as a musician or an actress. The first time I stepped on stage was in kindergarten—it was at my school’s talent show. I fell in love with being on stage and with singing at a very young age. I loved the emotion that I could pour out on stage; I mean, I wasn’t really pouring out emotion when I was 4! But when I started performing, I loved using my body to express the words in the songs that I was singing.

Ailsa Chang: But the constant spotlight wasn’t always kind to you. You’ve talked about being bullied about your weight at an early age. You struggled with eating disorders, even suicidal thoughts—and eventually, you turned to drugs.

Demi Lovato: Yeah, I’ve dealt with a lot, and I struggled a lot. But I’m in a really great place today. I’ve opened up and shared my story many times, and I opened up about the things that I coped with. It was a really rough time. But I feel like I have a really good handle on my life. I’m five and a half years sober now, and I’m in recovery for my eating disorder as well.

Ailsa Chang: I want to talk about a song on your album, “You Don’t Do It For Me Anymore.” In the verse, you sing: “I see the future without you / the hell was I doing in the past? / Now that I’ve learned all about you / A love just like ours wouldn’t last” — Who is that you’re letting go of?

Demi Lovato: I actually was singing this song about my alcohol and drug addiction. When you first hear it you think, “Wow, that’s pretty harsh for an ex-boyfriend!” But for me, it was about my old self and—

Ailsa Chang: You were breaking up with your old self.

Demi Lovato: Yeah, I was breaking up with my old self. Definitely.

Ailsa Chang: What was the rock bottom for you?

Demi Lovato: Rock bottom hit me in a moment when I was drinking vodka out of a Sprite bottle at nine in the morning on my way to the airport. I actually threw up in the back of the car service, and I had a moment where I thought to myself, “Wow, this is no longer glamorous. This is no longer a young person having fun with drinking and alcohol and experimentation. This is actually pathetic and sad.” And I felt like there needed to be a change in my life, because I had gotten to a place where I was no longer proud of myself and the person I had become.

Ailsa Chang: When you were in rehab, you were diagnosed with bipolar disorder and you talk very candidly about your mental illness. You also advocate for others to be open about their mental illnesses. Why is it important to you to talk about mental health in such a public way?

Demi Lovato: There are many, many mental illnesses that people struggle with on a day-to-day basis, and nobody feels comfortable enough to talk about it and to get the help that they need. We could prevent … so many lives [being] destroyed by mental illness if we just talk about it and we take the stigma away from it.

Ailsa Chang: Do you get tired of talking about your mental illness? Do you worry that it becomes a story that you’re known for — that it’s this narrative that drives your new music and it’s this thing that you have to keep talking about in interviews?

Demi Lovato: Well, fortunately my new music isn’t all about my struggles. It has a lot to do with my journey and my life and where I’m at today as a single 25-year-old woman who is living on her own for the first time [and] who has gone through a breakup that was really impactful, who is dating; you know, a bunch of stuff that you can relate to. There are times when I’m doing interviews and I feel like I sound repetitive. It’s not that I feel obligated or pressured to talk about it or that I get tired about talking about it; I just fear that sometimes people get tired of hearing my story.

Ailsa Chang: You know, your commitment to being really open and honest about yourself, it’s a commitment that is all over another song on your new album, “Sorry Not Sorry.” It sounds like you’re totally done with apologizing. What does that feel like?

Demi Lovato: It feels liberating. And the song actually was written — for me, again, it wasn’t written for an ex-boyfriend or anything like that. I was thinking about the bullies that bullied me in school, and how well I’m doing in my life today, and how I don’t give a flying f*** about it. I’ve spent so many years apologizing for my behavior and for the person that I used to be, so now I no longer am apologizing for who I was.

Ailsa Chang: Can you tell me how you got there? I know that’s a huge question, but you are 25; I know you have gone through so much in life. I’m 41 and I wish I could say, “Yeah, I’m done apologizing for myself. I’m done explaining myself and looking for justification.”

Demi Lovato: I think I’ve lived a lot of life. What people typically go through at an older age—I accelerated my life at a younger age with the struggles that I’ve had. And, I feel like I’ve had incredible people around me who have helped me get here; I can’t take all the credit myself. It’s a daily thing where I think about it, you know—some days are easier than others. But staying sober and staying in recovery is extremely important and I have people around me that hold me accountable for it. So it’s easy and sometimes difficult; but for the most part, I’ve just lived a lot of life.

Ailsa Chang: There are parts of this album that come from a pretty vulnerable place, but this is also a really, really fun album. It’s playful, it’s sexy. You talk about being single and dating. There’s one song called “Sexy Dirty Love”—who are you writing this song for?

Demi Lovato: I was writing this song for somebody that I was really interested in—somebody that I had been talking to, that I had a crush on. And, you know, when you go into the studio, you feel very inspired by the things that are happening in your daily life and this was where I was at. I was feeling confident, feeling sexy and I wanted to write a song about it.

Ailsa Chang: Your new album also has this really strong R&B feel to it. Is that something new you brought in through your vocals?

Demi Lovato: It’s something I wanted to explore when I started making this album because recently [during] the Grammys performance, I was able to showcase my vocals more than my pop music was doing. People…had known my songs, but they didn’t know I could sing the way that I can. I knew with this album it was a goal of mine to show the world the voice that I have. And I wanted to go more soulful with it, because that’s the type of music that I have fun singing.

Read the blog post “Demi Lovato’s Story” from 2016 here.

Taylor Swift’s Story

Music star Taylor Swift is victorious in her effort to hold a prominent Denver radio personality accountable for sexually assaulting her during a publicity event prior to a concert at the Pepsi Center in 2013.

After a jury ruled in her favor on Monday, Swift described her effort as a fight for “anyone who feels silenced by a sexual assault.” Acknowledging that not every victim can afford the “enormous cost” of taking a case to court, she announced that she would donate funds to multiple organizations that provide legal assistance to sexual assault victims. “My hope is to help those whose voices should also be heard,” Swift said.

Swift attorney Douglas Baldridge said the singer is “taking a stand for all women—she’s trying to tell people out there that you can say no when someone grabs you, no matter who they are. I think it’s a new day, because someone with the guts and the courage to stand up with absolutely no upside in doing so—that being Taylor Swift—has told everyone, ‘This is it, the line’s drawn.’ It means ‘no means no,’ and it tells every woman that they will determine what is tolerable to their body.”

The Denver Post quoted Abbey Shaw, a 16-year-old fan who was on hand for the verdict, saying: “She is putting out a message for women like us: Stick up for yourselves.”

The case began when KYGO radio host David Mueller groped Swift, who was 23 at the time, under her skirt during a backstage meet-and-greet photo session. At the trial, she described the incident: “He stayed attached to my bare ass-cheek as I lurched away from him. It was a definite grab. A very long grab.”

Swift chose not to report the incident to police, but her manager informed station executives about the incident. Mueller sued Swift’s team for $3 million for making false allegations and getting him fired. Swift countersued for $1 in symbolic damages to hold Mueller accountable and serve as an example to other women. The jury in the civil case brought in U.S. District Court was apparently swayed by the testimony of eight witnesses supporting Swift’s allegations as well as by a photograph depicting the incident. In civil cases, jurors must reach a verdict based on a preponderance of evidence not proof “beyond a reasonable doubt” as in criminal trials.

Swift wept during the trial, and during her testimony described the shock of having been assaulted: “A light switched off in my personality.” She said she “just looked at the floor. I couldn’t look at either of them [Mueller or his girlfriend], and I just said in monotone, ‘Thanks for coming.’”

Attorney Baldridge said the $1 awarded to Swift represented something of immeasurable value because typically “victims are prone to blink rather than relive the shame and humiliation of what took place. It takes people like Taylor, wonderful people like Taylor, who we all know, to stand up and draw these lines.”